The importance of a curious mind

Of all our various creative abilities, curiosity is perhaps the most important. It’s hard to imagine any creativity or human development without curiosity; This amazing ability makes us not only interested in our environment but also in ourselves. Curiosity makes us read books. Curiosity makes us ask the question “Why?“. Curiosity is the fuel that drives us forward. It is also through our curiosity that we find the inspiration to change the world. And it is curiosity, not money, which is the biggest driver in research.

Children are born curious. A pre-school child in asking mood can ask more than one hundred questions per hour. These questions show that the children are both aware of and fascinated by an outside world that they do not yet understand. At the same time, they realize that other people can be effective knowledge carriers for an increased understanding of a hidden reality.

The breadth of the questions also shows how wide open the children are for different explanations of reality and through their questions, they test different interpretations of it in a manner that sometimes seems bizarre to us. A child’s brain has many more nerve cells than an adult’s brain, but they are significantly less well-organized. The little child’s brain has not yet formed the neural networks which are the basis for adult mind patterns and brain structure, and the thoughts can therefore be quite unstructured.

However, the inquisitiveness is strongly dependent on the environment. If there is a lot of things in the child’s surroundings that stimulate curiosity and if the grown-ups around the child are actively present and take the time to answer the questions, curiosity develops. But if the environment is harsh, and if there are no interested adults around that can act as a sounding board and guide the questions, then inquisitiveness will wither and may in the worst case be replaced by disinterest and even apathy.

But even when the environment is stimulating, the first bubbling natural curiosity of the little child will eventually subside. After all, our brains want to save on energy, and it is more effective to act based on past experiences than constantly starting from zero. As we build more and more neural networks, it becomes easier for the brain to fall back on the existing thought patterns than to create new ones.

But by continuing to be actively curious about the world around us throughout life, we keep our minds alert and this constant mental effort makes us intellectually stronger, the same way that exercising our muscles makes us physically stronger. In order to retain the feeling that drives us as a child, we must consciously conquer the child-like curiosity every day and make it an integral part of our lives.

Many truly successful people have reached their positions through a never-ending curiosity, not just in a narrow area but in all possible and impossible fields of knowledge. Einstein was famous for his curiosity and constant questions. Steve Jobs was a curiosity omnivore, whose interests encompassed everything from computer programming, eastern philosophy, cartoons and digestive biology to poetry, music and design. During college he took a course in calligraphy for pure pleasure, which later inspired him to include classical fonts in the first Macintosh computers. He managed to keep this daily inquisitiveness throughout his career and was constantly surprised that so few in his surroundings had the same attitude. And the curiosity of Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the greatest genius of all time, I have already written about in a previous blog post.

Curiosity is to affirm oneself. Therefore, we have a responsibility towards ourselves to preserve some of the little child’s curiosity and inquisitiveness throughout life, both to enrich us with new experiences and to better understand ourselves. Self-reflection and searching for the eternal truths and the deeper meaning of life gives us the inner sounding board we need to be able to function as whole people in interaction with others. By understanding ourselves, we also get an important reference to how we should relate to and understand our environment.

A particular kind of curiosity is empathetic curiosity that makes us interested in how people in our surroundings think, feel and react. This kind of curiosity makes it easier for us to navigate among the sometimes complicated interactions between people. People with empathetic curiosity have easier to connect with persons of the opposite sex, and in a relationship, to keep the curiosity about the partner makes the relationship remain vital instead of falling into routine and boredom.

But curiosity also has other more direct benefits. It’s nice to hang out with a knowledgeable and person who can share experiences and ideas. Curious people are also happier and more content with life. When Gallup in 2013 interviewed 130,000 people from around 130 countries, there were two factors that most affected wellbeing during the day; “Learned or done something interesting” and “Could count on help from someone else“. Joy and happiness is something we cannot plan for, but something we fall into, and the chance of this is greater if we are curious.

There is also a direct link between curiosity and good health. Curiosity and interest in the things and people around are linked to increased self-esteem, happiness, and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart failure and hypertension, and curiosity makes our brain age more slowly with reduced risk of developing dementia. That’s why curious people as a group consider living longer and healthier than those who lack this property.

Curiosity is not just learning. It is as much about doing and experiencing new things and thus broadening your experiences. Our ingrained habits restrict us and puts us in a mental straitjacket, where we gradually shield us from life’s big buffet of possibilities. We can be attracted to things out there, and we see all the possibilities. It may be a journey, starting with a new hobby, going to the theatre or a concert, getting a new job, starting to play an instrument, creating something, or anything else that attracts us.

But for some strange reason it will often not be done. Instead, we do everything the way we usually do, giving us the sense of familiarity and safety. And our ingenuity seems to be infinite when it comes to finding reasons why we should not stride the new avenues – at least not today; “I do not have time”, “I cannot afford it”, “Right now there is so much to do at work”; “I’m too old”, “I need to be with the family”.

But all of these are bad excuses – and deep inside we know it.

Illustration: Pixabay.com – Alexas_Fotos

svensk_flagga   Detta blogginlägg på svenska

Author: Karl Ekdahl

International public health leader and creativity blogger.

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